The NBA Finals are great. The NBA Draft is a ton of fun. But for me, two of the most exciting moments in sports all year long are the NBA trade deadline and the opening of NBA free agency.
This year’s class, while not the absolute strongest, didn’t have its short of action and signings once the free-agency period actually opened.
But then, all stood still.
And it kind of still has, too, as the league waits to find out where Kevin Durant will land, if anyone besides the Lakers wants Kyrie Irving, why no one — including the Lakers — wants Russell Westbrook and now a likely Donovan Mitchell deal (probably to the Knicks).
The stars run the league, and it’s no different for free agency, too, as we need a few pieces to move off the chess board before signings continue.
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been big signings for real-life and fantasy purposes. The beauty, too, is that even if a deal wasn’t a great real-life deal for a team (Marvin Bagley says hello), it doesn’t mean that it isn’t good for fantasy.
Here are our NBA free agency winners and losers for fantasy purposes.
We almost saw a reunion of sorts with Jalen Smith and Deandre Ayton when the Pacers signed an offer sheet to Ayton. The Suns ended up matching it, but it’s still good news for Smith. Smith, who was an afterthought in Phoenix, thrived in Indiana last year and Rick Carlisle said that “he’s signed on here to be the starting power forward moving forward.”
In 22 games with the Pacers, Smith played 24.7 minutes, averaging 13.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and one block per game. With a new contract in tow, expect those numbers and the usage for Smith to go up in Indiana, making him a great mid-round sleeper.
The Dejounte Murray move opened up playing time for the Spurs, who are obviously tanking even though Greg Popovich is anti-tanking.
One of the players who will get the first crack at a larger role is Tre Jones, the third-year player from Duke.
Jones played in 69 games last year, averaging 16.6 minutes per game. Jones is really the only true point guard on the roster, and he’ll get that much-needed opportunity that we talk about in fantasy sports so often. He’s going to mainly be used as a facilitator for Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Josh Primo, Malaki Branham and Jakob Poeltl, but he’s going to get the majority of the minutes at point guard because Coach Pop isn’t exactly going to turn the offense over to rookie Blake Wesley.
This is going to go down as one of the biggest signings in free agency. Mark my words. Milwaukee and Sacramento fans are both going to be annoyed at just how well DiVincenzo fits in with the Warriors.
But what about for fantasy? Well, I expect a similar role for DiVincenzo that we saw with Gary Payton II last year for the champs. He’s going to be a perimeter lockdown option who can contribute steals, assists, some scoring and three-point help with the offense Golden State runs.
Morris was one of the best backup guards in the league during his time in Denver, and while Bones Hyland (winner) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (winner) should do well for fantasy purposes in Denver, I’m excited for the opportunity for Morris to get more run in Washington.
He should start alongside Bradley Beal, but even if he isn’t a traditional starter, he should close out games for the Wizards and see the highest usage rate of his career.
The only issue for Brogdon in his career is health. He hasn’t played more than 56 games in any of his last three seasons, and while the trade (I know this is free agency. I’m cheating) was a good one for the Celtics, it’s also a hit for his fantasy value.
Brogdon had a 24.1% usage rate last year and played 33.5 minutes per game. With Marcus Smart and Derrick White taking minutes away, expect Brogdon to play in the low-20s with his involvement decreased in the offense.
Dejounte Murray (PG – ATL)
I love this fit for the Hawks. Late in the game, it gives them an extra ball handler and allows Trae Young the opportunity to move without the ball instead of creating a shot off the dribble.
But what it does do, by default, is limit the scoring opportunity for Murray — at least in theory.
He’s not a hard fade or anything like that, but after his breakout 2021 season, it knocks him down a tier.
The Clippers may be the favorites to win the NBA Finals. I’ve come around on them, but I’m still not at the point where I think they are the favorites. The reason many around the league seem to think that, though, is because of the insane depth that they’ve built. They have wings on wings on wings — but with that much depth, there are going to be players who would be fantasy relevant who won’t play on a regular basis.
Norman Powell, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, Amir Coffey and Brandon Boston are just some of the names who have to battle it out for playing time. That’s not mentioning Robert Covington, who will likely have to find backup center minutes. What’s more, there’s the battle between John Wall and Reggie Jackson for point guard minutes and usage.
Boy, how things change, huh? Wood was a fantasy darling heading into last season with the Rockets, but had a down year riddled with controversy and trade rumors. Now in Dallas, it seems like it would be a good landing spot on the surface. But JaVale McGee made it known that he would be the starting center for Dallas.
McGee is a per-minute stud, but those minutes are few and far between.
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